Bernie Sanders: Striking UAW workers are in a fight for America’s future
via UAW

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., traveled to Detroit on Friday, Sept. 15, to rally with striking UAW workers as they fight the greed of the Big Three carmakers. This op-ed is based on the remarks he delivered on the picket line.

Let me thank Shawn Fain, the President of the UAW, and all of you for inviting me to be with you today. It’s an honor. And let me thank the UAW for standing up and demanding that the working class of this country finally receives the respect and the dignity which it deserves.

Let’s be clear: The fight that you are waging here is not only about decent wages, decent benefits, and decent working conditions in the automobile industry.

No. The fight you are waging is a fight against the outrageous level of corporate greed and arrogance that we are seeing on the part of CEOs who think they have a right to have it all, and could care less about the needs of their workers.

So today, I say to all Americans that the fight that the men and women of the UAW are waging now is not just about the automobile industry. It is about the need to create an economy that works for all of us and not just the top one percent.

In other words, the fight of the UAW against corporate greed is our fight—the fight of every American.

Let us be clear as to what’s going on in the American economy today and what has gone on for decades. And that is that the CEOs and the people on top have been doing phenomenally well, while the working class has been falling further and further behind.

Unbelievably, in the United States today, at a time of massive income and wealth inequality, weekly wages for the average American worker are actually lower than they were 50 years ago, after adjusting for inflation.

In other words, despite a massive increase in worker productivity in the automobile industry and every other sector of our economy; despite CEOs now making 400 times more than what their employees earn; despite record-breaking corporate profits; despite corporate America spending hundreds of billions on dividends and stock buybacks, the average American worker is worse off today than he or she was 50 years ago.

That, brothers and sisters, is what this strike is about, and that’s why every worker in this country should support your struggle.

In America today, while we have more income and wealth inequality than ever before, over 60% of workers are living paycheck to paycheck. That means that every day they are living under incredible stress worried about paying the rent, worried about being able to afford a doctor when someone in the family gets sick, worried about childcare, worried about whether they’ll be able to send their kids to college.

I grew up in a family that lived paycheck to paycheck. And I know a little bit about that. This is the richest country in the history of the world. And families in America, in the automobile industry and every other industry, should not have to live with that kind of stress.

Over the past 50 years, there has been a massive redistribution of wealth. The problem is that it has gone in the wrong direction.  Since 1975, $50 trillion in wealth has been redistributed from the bottom 90% to the top 1%—primarily because a growing percentage of corporate profits have been flowing into the stock portfolios of the wealthy.

In 1937, the UAW played an historic role in American history. The auto workers of that time had the extraordinary courage to take on the greed and power of the auto industry.

And here we are now in 2023, some 86 years later, and once again the UAW is helping to lead the effort.

So today, I say to the CEOs of General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis: Understand the enormous financial sacrifices your workers have made over the years. End your greed. Treat your employees with the respect and dignity they are due.

I say to Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors: Last year, you made over $29 million. Since you became CEO eight years ago, you have made over $200 million in total compensation. Do you have any clue what it’s like for one of your workers to try to survive on $17 an hour—which is the average starting wage of an auto worker? Do you know what it’s like to try to raise a family, put food on the table, and pay the rent at $20 an hour?

I say to Carlos Taveres, the CEO of Stellantis: Last year you received a 22% pay raise and now make over $25 million in total compensation. Do you know what it’s like to be classified as a “temp” worker, and despite working year after year remain a “temp” worker receiving wages and benefits significantly lower than people beside you doing the same exact work? Do you know how that feels?

I say to Jim Farley, the CEO of Ford: Last year, you made nearly $21 million in total compensation, and my guess is that when you retire from your job you’re going to have a great pension and all kinds of other benefits. Do you have any clue as to what it’s like to be a worker and worry about how you’re going to survive in retirement when you have no savings in the bank?

Let’s be clear.

What the UAW is fighting for is not radical.

In the first half of 2023, the Big Three automakers made $21 billion in profits—up 80% from the same time period last year.

Over the past decade, the Big Three made $250 billion in profits in North America alone.

Last year, these companies spent $9 billion—not to improve the lives of their workers, not to make their factories safer, but on stock buybacks and dividends to make their wealthy executives and stockholders even richer.

Incredibly, over the last four years, CEO pay at the Big Three has increased by more than 40%.

Meanwhile, while the CEOs and stockholders in the auto industry make out like bandits, the workers who build the vehicles earn totally inadequate wages and, over the last several decades, have fallen further and further behind.

There was once a time when a union job in the automobile industry was the gold standard for the working class of this country. Those days are long gone.

Unbelievably, over the last 20 years, the average wage for American autoworkers has decreased by 30% after adjusting for inflation.

And let me tell you something else. I am getting a little sick and tired of hearing the corporate media tell us how bad a strike will be for the economy and how many billions of dollars the auto industry may lose as a result.

When you have auto workers who cannot afford to buy the cars they make on the assembly line, that is bad for the economy.

When you have auto workers who cannot afford to take out a mortgage to buy a modest home while the companies they work for make record-breaking profits, that is bad for the economy.

When you have auto workers who can’t afford childcare or to send their kids to college, that’s bad for the economy.

No, brothers and sisters, what the UAW is fighting for is not radical.

It is the totally reasonable demand that autoworkers finally receive a fair share of the record-breaking profits that their labor has produced.

It means that if the Big Three can afford to spend $9 billion on stock buybacks and dividends last year, they can afford to provide a decent COLA to autoworkers so that their wages keep pace with inflation.

And let’s be clear. While decent wages are a key demand for the UAW, there are other important contract changes that the union has proposed.

It means that the time is long overdue to get rid of the disastrous two-tier system under which newer workers earn lower wages and receive less generous benefits than others doing the same exact work.

It means finally ending the use of “temporary workers,” who are ruthlessly exploited and treated like second-class citizens.

It means that all autoworkers receive a decent pension plan so they’re able to retire with security.

It means that workers should have the right to strike when an auto company announces that they will be shutting down another profitable plant in the United States of America.

And that’s not all.

It means that as we combat climate change and try to save this planet for our kids and future generations, that when the auto industry builds new Electric Vehicle and battery plants that the workers in those plants become part of the UAW and receive the same wages and benefits as union members.

Brothers and Sisters: The CEOs of General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis and their major stockholders on Wall Street have got to understand that they cannot have it all.

We refuse to live in an oligarchy.  We refuse to accept a society in which so few have so much and so many have so little.

Enough is enough!

Let us stand together to end to corporate greed.

Let us create an economy that works for all of us, not just the top one percent.

Let us all stand in solidarity with the UAW.

Thank you all very much. 


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Sen. Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sen. Sanders of Vermont, Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, is the longest-serving independent in congressional history.